It‘s long been the practice to spray tough weeds like ‘Ground Elder‘ and ‘Bindweed‘ when they‘re in flower but it‘s recently been discovered that autumn is particularly effective. At this time of year the sap is being drawn deep into the roots and stored for the winter, so it‘s increasing the concentration of herbicide that is absorbed by the roots. Spray with a systemic or translocated herbicide on a still, dull day, when the foliage is dry and rain is not expected and always follow the manufacturer‘s instructions. You‘ll find with well established weeds that applying two sprays a few days apart at 50% of the recommended dilution rate can be more effective.
You can sow hardy annuals ‘Love-in-a Mist‘, ‘Larkspur‘ and ‘Poppies‘ in spring, but doing it now means stronger, earlier flowering plants. Sow them where they are to flower in borders and protect them with cloches or fleece if the weather gets really cold. In cooler areas sow them in trays and plant them into individual pots when they are large enough to handle or when the seed leaves appear, then grow them on in a cool greenhouse or cold frame, with as much light as possible. They don‘t need high temperatures, just keep the environment cool and frost-free. By the time they are ‘hardened off‘ and planted out in their final positions in May they too will be bushier, stronger and flower earlier than those sown in the spring.
There are three ‘must have‘ plants for winter fragrance that are really reliable and easy to grow and will be in the nurseries now. Viburnum x bondnantense ‘Dawn‘ is deservedly popular and flowers for several months. Clusters of pink, sweetly scented flowers burst out along the naked stems from November to March – whatever the weather! In summer it‘s the perfect host for clematis to weave their way through the upright, arching stems; a deep, red cultivar like ‘Niobe‘ is the perfect partner, highlighting the red veins on its leaves.
Then there‘s Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty‘, a shrubby, rather straggly honeysuckle, with small, pale cream flowers and a wonderful perfume that‘s deliciously sweet, without being overpowering. But my favourite of all is Chimonanthus praecox or ‘Winter Sweet‘, although it is slow growing and takes several years to flower it really is worth the wait. Grown as a shrub or against a sunny wall it produces extraordinarily delicate, yellow, waxy flowers with the exotic aroma of allspice!
At ground level, it‘s still not too late to plant ‘Scillas‘, ‘Chionodoxa‘s or Iris danfordiae to form colourful carpets, through borders. ‘Hellebores‘ look wonderful too, in pots or planted in borders. One of the most famous is Helleborus niger, known as the ‘Christmas Rose‘. It isn‘t a rose and rarely flowers at Christmas but is so beautiful you‘d be prepared to forgive it anything! They flourish in dappled shade or the protection of a north facing wall in limy soil with lots of compost. The beautiful white, waxy flowers with a cluster of golden stamens really are an inspiring sight and the perfect winter tonic. There‘s still plenty of time to brighten up your borders for winter.